Tag Archives: USCL

A Broken Record

After our win against LA last week, we faced Miami in the USCL Semifinals yesterday. With newly minted GM Daniel Naroditsky on Board 2, FM Yian Liou on 3, and soon to be NM Siddharth Banik on board 4, I was actually the “old man” of a talented team with hopes of winning it all. Unfortunately, we lost the match and dropped to 0-4 against the Sharks in the USCL Playoffs.

At this point, I have to ask – what is Miami doing in Western Conference anyway? Maybe they can swap with Philadelphia: at least they’re not right on the EASTERN coastline! I’m sure at least Dallas would vote for realignment at this point too …

My own game was the quickest of the match. Due to their better regular season record, Miami chose White on Boards 1 and 3, so I had Black versus GM Julio Becerra. There are a number of strong players in the league, but Becerra is by far the USCL leader in terms of wins. And with the white pieces in normal league games, he’s been incredibly strong – by my count, 21 wins, 18 draws, and only 1 loss for a 2698 FIDE performance rating against opposition with an average FIDE rating of 2507. His last loss in any tournament as White in my database was in 2011. All this is to say that while I would have liked to win, my primary goal was to at least hold the line as Black.

For the 4th time this year, I played the Winawer French, and for the second straight match, I played (or was allowed to play) the Poison Pawn Variation (full game here). This marks the 5th time I’ve played it, and amusingly, the 1st time I did was also against Becerra in the USCL (that game can be found here).

Becerra - Bhat 2013 1

(FEN: r1b1k1r1/ppq1np1Q/2n1p3/3pP3/5P2/P1p5/2P1N1PP/R1B1KB1R w KQq - 0 12)

Last week, Melik played the normal 12.Qd3 here and that is what Julio played against me back in 2008. This time though, he responded immediately with 12.Nxc3. It now seems like an obvious move, but this wasn’t always the case, and looking back at my notes for that 2008 game with Becerra, I had no mention of 12.Nxc3 in my preparation. In the past couple years though, Karjakin and Svidler have chosen it in serious games, so it has some pedigree now and I had looked at it in advance of the Melik game. I had not focused on it for Becerra though, as I had predicted some other lines from him.

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Playoffs? Playoffs.

We’re already past the first round of the USCL playoffs, but as I haven’t written about any of our prior matches, I’ll have to fill in the back-story over the next few weeks. In the meantime, SF has advanced to the Semifinals!

Like in 2011, we were facing the LA Vibe, but unlike that year, we had draw odds in the match by virtue of winning the Pacific Division pretty handily. Our lineup was youth heavy with me as the elder statesman (!) on board 1 followed by GM Daniel Naroditsky, FM Yian Liou, and Siddharth Banik.

On Board 1, I had the black pieces versus GM Melik Khachiyan (follow link to play through the whole game). Melik and I have played a few times before, and in both games with the black pieces, I chose 1…e5 (one Ruy Lopez Exchange that was drawn and one Italian Game that I won). This time around though, I decided to mix it up with the French and even more so, with the 12…d4 version of the Winawer Poison Pawn.

Khachiyan - Bhat USCL 2013 1

(FEN: R1BK1B1R/PP1N1P2/4Qp1P/2P1p3/3P4/3p1n2/2pn1qpp/1r1k1b1r)

While I’ve long played the French against 1.e4, I didn’t start out playing the Winawer and this actually marks the 4th time that I’ve played the Poisoned Pawn Variation. I started with the 3.Nc3 Nf6 lines, switching over to mostly the Winawer starting in the mid-2000s. But after becoming a GM, I went back to 1…e5 (which I played before the French), albeit with the Lopez instead of the Petroff or other lines. All this is to say that when another annotator writes something like, “Vinay Bhat is a French, in particular, a Poisoned Pawn devotee” (when annotating 1 of the now 4 Poison Pawn games I’ve played), take it with a grain of salt.

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The USCL Roundup: 2011 and all-time

The 2011 USCL season is over, with the NY Knights winning in the finals against the Chicago Blaze (both teams fielded less than optimal lineups because of tournament conflicts).

For me, the 2011 campaign was a return to chess after a full year away from OTB chess and two years away from the USCL. I got off to a great start, beating GM Melik Khachiyan when my main hope was not to embarrass myself, but my play was somewhat uneven. Some weeks I played well (that game and the game against Shulman), while on some weeks I was out of it (like against Amanov). Part of that was probably due to me not working on chess in between matches, so I never got into a groove. The games felt a lot more tiring than I remember then being, and I imagine most of that it because I’m not used to playing long chess games anymore.

One of the interesting things about this year was that in 4 of the 5 games, I played something totally new. In the first game against Khachiyan, I had played a few games from the black side of the Giouco Pianissimo (and many more from the white side). After that, though, I played a totally new line of the French (and was playing it well for a while) followed by the Nimzo a couple times and a Slav/Grunfeld hybrid against the Reti (that didn’t work out so well …).

I have played 1.d4 Nf6 2.c4 e6 in a few rated games before, but the “threat” of the Nimzo seemed to be too strong and I never actually faced 3.Nc3. Instead after 3.Nf3 or 3.g3, I played 3…d5. This year, though, both Shulman and Bercys chose 3.Nc3 against me, clearly indicating that the “threat” of the QGD was too much! My score with the Nimzo now is 2.5/3, so I haven’t done too badly there.

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I am the Bluest of Blues, Every Day a Different Way to Lose

For the first round of the playoffs, we were facing the LA Vibe. As they finished just ahead of us in the regular season, they received draw-odds while we had color choice on board 1. Taking white makes sense mostly because having the white pieces is relatively more important for GM games, while Board 4 games tend to be more of a tossup.

As an aside, with our season over, I think it’s safe to reveal a facet of the team’s strategy this year: maximize the number of whites for GMs Patrick Wolff and Jesse Kraai, and fit me in if needed. Thus, after Week 1 when I was in NY, every time we had black on board 1, I was in the lineup. Whenever we had white on board 1, I didn’t leave work early.

It’s not that I’m so great with the black pieces, but I guess I don’t show as big a differential in results by color as many other GMs. Looking at my database, my performance rating for the past handful of years is only a couple points below my average rating for that time. Given that the standard performance “boost” for white or “penalty” for black is around 35-40 rating points, I guess I have done relatively better than average with the black pieces. If I have to win, it’s not ideal, but otherwise I also don’t really mind playing with the black pieces.

So, with us having white on 1 and 3, the lineup that matched our color strategy was for all 3 GMs to finally play together with Uyanga Byambaa on board 4. I could play above Wolff, but then that’d break the color pattern, so our lineup was Wolff – Bhat – Kraai – Byambaa. As black on board 2, I faced IM Zhanibek Amanov, who’s played all of 1.e4, 1.d4, 1.c4, and 1.Nf3 in the past few years. The full game can be seen at http://www.uschessleague.com/games/zamanovbhat11.htm.

The game started out 1.c4 c6 2.Nf3 d5 3.g3 Nf6 4.Bg2, and here I played 4…g6. This was a new move for me – I’ve normally played 4…Bg4 or 4…Bf5 setups – but I was looking for something more solid. Maybe it wasn’t the right decision, though, as the positions are often pretty dry and don’t provide too many active prospects for Black. White followed with a double fianchetto and we brought out the rest of our pieces. After 14.e3, we reached the position in the diagram below:

(FEN: r3r1k1/1p1n1pbp/1qp2np1/p2pp3/2P5/1P1PPNPP/PBQ2PB1/1R3RK1 b - - 0 14)

This is a general problem with Black’s whole setup – he isn’t really much worse at the moment, but he doesn’t have much to do while White can still improve his position. The e5/d5 center is nice but not particularly mobile, and Black’s pieces are largely stuck guarding those pawns. I had trouble coming up with a plan, and the result maybe was a bit artificial, but I think it was reasonable given the situation.

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Just Another – Ha ha ha ha – Laugher

Last year, when the San Francisco Giants won the World Series for the first time (they’d only won in their previous incarnation on the East Coast), the name of the game seemed to be “torture.” With an anemic offense and stellar pitching staff, the Giants made it a habit of making every game close. Often when it was an apparent blowout, they’d let the other team back in only to sneak out with a win in the end. This game was an (unplanned) homage to that spirit.

The full game can be replayed here (http://www.uschessleague.com/games/bercysbhat11.htm).

I saw that Bercys had played 3.Nf3 a bunch of times, but more recently he had been favoring 4.Qc2, so this didn’t come as a surprise. A welcome difference from my game with Shulman! Bercys repeated a line that he had played a few times before with 4…0-0 5.Nf3 c5 6.dxc5 Na6 7.c6.

(FEN: r1bq1rk1/pp1p1ppp/n1P1pn2/8/1bP5/2N2N2/PPQ1PPPP/R1B1KB1R b KQ - 0 7)

Morozevich introduced this move in 2008 against Ponomariov and won a miniature. He’s since played it a bunch of times with great results – 7/9 with 2900+ performance rating. Interestingly, the rest of the crowd hasn’t scored well with it – 50% and no performance rating bump for having the white pieces.

Anyways, I think there are two reasons behind the move: (1) it’s relatively new, which is already something these days;  and (2), it attempts to close the c-file as later on in the usual lines, the c4-pawn and Queen can be a bit exposed.

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Don’t Call it a Comeback

I’ve neglected this blog recently – I’ve had various ideas of what to blog about, but then I shift back into the lazy gear and don’t actually write anything. Now that I’ve played a couple games again, though, I’ll try and get back on track. (Even this post covers a match from a week ago, but I’m getting there!)

After having played in the USCL from 2005 through 2009, I skipped the 2010 season and I wasn’t particularly certain about playing this year. But with my office moving to just a couple blocks away from the Mechanics Institute and one of the regular SF GMs moving away (Josh Friedel moved to Wisconsin, opening up an extra spot), I decided to give it a go.

My first game back was going to be as black against GM Melik Khachiyan. I was pretty nervous before the game. I had played a handful of blitz games on ICC since August 2010 and no slow games, and I never executed on my grand plans to study before the USCL season. It’s one thing when you’re playing individually, but here, in addition to not wanting to embarrass myself, I didn’t want the team to lose because I missed a mate in 1.

Luckily that didn’t happen … (the whole game can be replaced here)

(FEN: r2qr1k1/bpp2pp1/p1npbn1p/4p3/4P3/1BPP1N1P/PP3PP1/R1BQRNK1 w - - 0 12)

I had expected an Exchange Ruy Lopez, but I guess Melik wanted to change things up from our last (in-person) game. Instead, he went with the Giuoco Pianissimo, and while I had some trouble recalling all the correct move orders, I did get to a position I recognized at this point. During the game, I actually thought this was how my game against Vocaturo last summer went, but it was only a marginally different move order and position. We could have transposed to that after 12.Be3 Bxb3 13.Qxb3 Qd7.

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Around the World

I’m playing my final tournament of this summer trip in Sants (Barcelona, Spain) right now. We’re through 8 rounds, and I have 6/8 with 2 more games to go. GM Maxim Rodshtein and IM-elect Orelvis Perez Mitjans are in the lead with 7/8.

I’ll recap the Poble Nou rapid tournament and Sants once I’m done playing. In the meantime, Canadian GM Mark Bluvshtein (also playing at Sants) has a chess blog at http://markbluvshtein.wordpress.com/ where he posts his game and analysis every day. GM Jon Ludvig Hammer also has a relatively new site and blog at http://gmhammer.wordpress.com/.

Finally, the US Chess League has started back up this week. The SF Mechanics got off to a nice start with a 3.5-0.5 win in the first week against the Dallas Destiny. I played the first five seasons of the USCL, but I’m taking a break this year.